When the Lord appeared to Saul of Tarsus and confronted him with the guilt of sin, the humbled believer asked the Lord what he needed to do (Acts 9:6). He was instructed to go to the city of Damascus where he would be told what he must do (Acts 9:6-8). Saul did this (a true sign of both his belief in Jesus and his repentance), and we are told that for three days and nights, he was praying and fasting (Acts 9:9-11). The Lord, meanwhile, instructed one of His servants, Ananias, to go and preach to Saul and baptized him (Acts 9:12-18).
Years later, the Apostle Paul reports what the inspired message of Ananias told him to do after those three days of prayer and fasting:
Acts 22:16-And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
Several facts about this passage are worthy of note.
First, the structure of the verse is very clear that it is in the action of baptism that sins are washed away.
“Ananias’ instruction to Saul includes two aorist participles, “rising up” and “calling upon”; and two imperatives, “be baptized” and “wash away your sins….Finally, the number and order of the imperatives show that baptism is a condition for washing away sins. If the outward act were only a symbolic picture of a prior inner cleansing, we would not expect him to put both in the imperative form. In such a case it would be appropriate for the “washing away” to be an aorist participle (like “rising up” and “calling upon”). Strictly speaking the action of an aorist participle precedes the action of the main verb. Ananias thus would have said, “Be baptized [imperative], having washed away your sins [aorist participle].” But he does not say this; he uses two imperatives instead.” (Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study, 957-983 (Kindle Edition); Joplin, Missouri; College Press Publishing Company)
Therefore, the passage makes it absolutely clear that baptism is the point at which sins are washed away by the blood of Christ. This makes sense when we realize that we must reach the blood of Jesus to be cleansed (Hebrews 9:22; 10:1-4). Since Jesus shed His blood in His death (John 19:34), then we must somehow reach His death in order to access that cleansing blood. According to the New Testament, it is in the act of baptism that we enter into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). Therefore, baptism is necessary for one to reach the blood of Christ and have his sins washed away.
Second, please observe that the phrase “be baptized” is clearly a command. This is shown from the very statement itself, the words “be baptized” being in the imperative mood. In the Greek, verbs in the imperative mood are commands. The baptism here enjoined is this a command that was given to Saul.
Some in the religious world argue that Acts 22:16 is a reference to being baptized with the Holy Spirit. However, the New Testament is very clear that Holy Spirit baptism is always a promise to be fulfilled, and not a command to be obeyed (cf. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; 24:49; John 1:33; Acts 1:4-5). This passage therefore must be a reference to water baptism (cf. Acts 10:47-48).
Third, it is worthy of notice that the command “wash away” is in the middle voice in the original language.
The middle voice is used to describe an action that a person either does for, or has done to, himself. One scholarly work, in examining the meaning of the middle voice, has this for us:
“However, in addition to active and passive, Greek has a third voice, the middle , which has no English equivalent. Its forms coincide with those of the passive except in the future and aorist. In earlier Greek this mood was used in fairly well defined ways, but in NT Greek its exact nuances can sometimes be hard to discern, and one of its earlier uses (to express reflexive action, see below) has almost disappeared. With normal verbs the middle generally indicates that the subject has an even greater involvement in the action than would be the case if the verb were active. Often it can be considered as meaning to do something for oneself.” (Gavin Betts, Complete New Testament Greek, 2584 (Kindle Edition); McGraw-Hill Companies)
Another excellent authority writes of the middle voice:
“Defining the function of the middle voice is not an easy task because it encompasses a large and amorphous group of nuances. But in general, in the middle voice the subject performs or experiences the action expressed by the verb in such a way that emphasizes the subject’s participation. It may be said that the subject acts “with a vested interest.”” (Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics Of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar, 3883 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Therefore, the action of washing away his sins was something Saul was commanded to do for himself. This shows us that the baptism must be personally chosen. This reminds us again that infant baptism is excluded from the plan of salvation. This makes sense of course when we realize that one fundamental reason of baptism is to wash away sins (as this passage shows), and since infants have no sins (Ezekiel 18:20; 28:15; Romans 7:9) they have no need of baptism!
Finally, even though Saul had been praying as a believer who had repented of his sins (Acts 9:9-11), he still had not “called on the name of the Lord.” The phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” would be synonymous with the “arising,” “being baptized,” and “washing away your sins” of the passage. One friend told me that the phrase is like the command, “clean the floor, sweeping it.” It is in the act of “being baptized” that Saul would be “calling on the name of the Lord.”
In the Old Testament, the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” simply meant to obey whatever God declared. For example:
Zephaniah 3:9-“For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the LORD, To serve Him with one accord.
Please notice that in this passage, “calling” upon God was equates to “serving” or “obeying” Him.
When we (like Saul) hear of the stoning death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), we can also choose to believe in the Son Of God and repent of our sins (Luke 13:3; John 8:24). We can also pray and fast for three whole days and nights (Acts 9:9-11).
Yet, just like Saul, we are still in our sins until we arise and and are baptized into Christ.
Why not obey Him today friends?
Or if you are a child of God who has turned from the Lord, will you not today return to Him in repentance and prayer, seeking His promised forgiveness (1 John 1:8-2:2)?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.